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Monday, September 19, 2011

Perspectives on Today's World - China and Christianity

While I will not edit the articles I am about to post, I will not be afraid to bold or underline some key points.  The story of China and Christianity is actually long-term, as missionaries were in China back in the 6th Century long before Communism and Mao were born.   Some remnants of the original faith of the early Chinese are found in Chinese culture, but generally speaking successive waves of missions to China have never had far-reaching consequences...until now.   First, an article concerning the Christian Church in China from 2007:

By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing 

Zhang Minxuan's house church in the north of Beijing
Many of China's Christians attend underground churches

At an underground church service in China, you pray as quickly as you can - and hope the police do not come running in. 
At the end of an alleyway in the north of Beijing, 40 Chinese Christians gather in a small classroom. At the beginning of the service, they bow their heads and pray. 

Their priest, Zhang Minxuan, stands in front of them. Twenty years ago he was a barber with no interest in religion. Then he got into trouble with the Communist Party and was jailed. After that he became a Christian. 

Since then he has led an underground church and been detained a dozen times.

I need to spread Christianity and I need to print the bible and distribute it to fellow believers
Cai Zhuohua

"One day, God will bring our church out of the darkness and into the light," he tells his followers in the classroom. Their eyes shine back at him. 

"I will pray for the government no matter how much they persecute me," Mr Zhang says. 

"In the end I believe that God will convert them. I will never give up my relationship with God - no matter what happens." 

Underground Christians make the Chinese Communist Party nervous. 

There are millions of them in this country. They worship wherever they can - often in private homes.
They do not want to be controlled by Beijing, so they refuse to sign up to the state-sanctioned church.
The party is wary of any organisation that does not pledge its loyalty to the state. 

Jail sentence
At his home in Beijing, Cai Zhuohua reads from the Old Testament.

Stack of Chinese bibles
Amity Printing Company produces about 9,000 bibles every day

In his sitting room, next to an old television set, there is a stack of bibles. 

Mr Cai is another leader in China's underground Christian movement.

He is too nervous to allow us to meet his congregation - in case the police identify them from our reports. 

Cai Zhuohua has been a Christian since he was a teenager.
A few years ago he had 10,000 bibles printed and delivered to fellow underground Christians. For this, the Communist Party jailed him for three years. 

"I need to spread Christianity," he says, "and I need to print the Bible and distribute it to fellow believers - but I'm stopped from doing this." 

Bible factory
So that makes what we find in the southern city of Nanjing quite a surprise.
China has its own thriving bible makers - the Amity Printing Company. 

Every day the firm prints off around 9,000 bibles. But the factory is only allowed to supply bibles to the official state-approved church - not to the underground church. 

Peter Dean
Perhaps it's God's humour but we are printing millions of bibles here
Peter Deam, Amity's production advisor

The pages coming out of the presses do not seem to have much of an effect on the workers. 

"I haven't read the Bible and I don't believe in Christianity," says Zhang Guohong, who's been working at the factory for 14 years. 

"I have flipped through the book, but I am here to work. There is no time for me to read it." 

Amity printed its first Chinese bible in 1987. Since then the company has been getting bigger and bigger. 

In February 2008, Amity will move to a new site which will be able to make a million bibles a month. That may make it the world's largest bible factory. 

That is quite something for the godless, Communist state. 

"Perhaps it's God's humour," says Peter Dean, Amity's production advisor, "but we are printing millions of bibles here. 

"We have printed 41 million bibles for the churches in China, they are distributed out through this gate, and into the networks of churches in China." 

Official church

Worshippers attend a service in a state-approved Catholic church
The state-approved churches are also popular

Some of the bibles end up at the Xishiku Catholic Church in Beijing.
This church is part of China's official, state-sanctioned religious establishment. 

In the Catholic church, the bishops are chosen by Beijing, not the Vatican. 

Everyone here answers to the Communist Party - no one has to hide or worry about getting arrested. 

On Sundays hundreds of worshippers come to celebrate early morning mass. Three services are held - there are no spare seats at any of them. 

This is the kind of official Christianity that the Chinese government tolerates. 

The rule is simple: if you are loyal to the Communist Party, you can pray and you can worship as much as you like. 

The government wants its Christians in the state-approved church where it can see them and control them. 

But Christianity is growing beyond its control. One day soon, Christians may even outnumber Communists. 


So four years ago the Chinese government had decided they had the answer to control Christianity - have an official state church!   This is what the Soviet government did back in the old USSR days.   Yet underground Christian churches were popping up all over China, groups of people who did not want the Chinese government getting between themselves and God.  Now let's look at what was happening just three years later:

Christian faith plus Chinese productivity

Employees of the Boteli Valve Group in Wenzhou  
The employees work under the customary symbols of the atheist Communist state
At first glance, it looks as though it could be any other factory driving the rapid development of the Chinese economy. 

But this is no ordinary enterprise because here religious faith is as important as profit.

In fact, the owner of the Boteli Valve Group in Wenzhou would like to see all his staff convert to Christianity.
And such a factory is not a one-off: it is part of a growing number of businesses run by Christian entrepreneurs in one of China's key enterprise zones, whose success is now being studied by the Chinese government.

As he shows me the production facilities, the factory's general manager, Weng-Jen Wau, tells me that every month, $5m (£3m) worth of industrial valves are manufactured.

About 40% of the factory's output is exported to businesses worldwide.

But he seems to have limited interest in the sales figures - he is far more concerned to tell me about the place his family's Christian faith has in the life of the factory. 

'Better workers'
Every Monday morning, the senior managers gather together and pray about the business.
Weng-Jen Wau, factory manager
"When [Christian workers] do things wrong, they feel guilty - that's the difference”--Weng-Jen Wau factory manager
Once a week, members of staff are encouraged to attend an on-site Christian fellowship meeting, where they read the Bible and pray for each other. 

Weng-Jen Wau believes that by encouraging increasing numbers of his staff to convert to Christianity, his business will prosper. 

And he tells me that when staff do convert to Christianity, their attitude towards their work is transformed.
"If you're a Christian you're more honest, with a better heart," he says. "The people who aren't Christians aren't responsible. I think it's very different.

"I'm not saying those people who aren't Christians are all bad, but from the percentage of the workers who are Christians, they seem to be more responsible. Also when they do things wrong, they feel guilty - that's the difference," he explains.

One of the workers I met who had recently converted to Christianity explained that he had known nothing about the religion before he started work at the factory.

BBC map
But he said that his new-found faith was now a source of daily inspiration.

He told me that he was now trying to convert his friends and colleagues to Christianity.

"If everybody became a Christian, it would have a very big impact, and would really help the development of our factory," he said.

Work ethic
So I asked Mr Wau how much religion was a factor when he was recruiting new staff.

Professor Zhuo Xinping
"Of course I would choose the Christians first, definitely," he said. "It's very important to find the secret of social development, the so-called potential forces for a nation”--Professor Zhuo Xinping Director of the Chinese Institute of World Religions
Such comments could prompt accusations of discriminatory practice in some countries, but he had no doubt about the sort of impact Christianity could have on Chinese business. 

"I think if all enterprises absorb this Christian culture, we will have a much more harmonious society," he said.
There are obvious questions about whether the staff really have discovered Christianity, or whether they are simply responding pragmatically to a clearly defined vision for their company.

Those I met were keen to stress the significance of their new faith, and the lack of pressure to convert - though there was no disguising their bosses' clear desire to boost Christian numbers in the workforce.
But the wider role of Christian entrepreneurs in the economic success of the Wenzhou private enterprise zone has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese government.

Far from being regarded as a religious oddity, the impact of Christian-run businesses is now being studied by Chinese government officials.

At the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, I met Professor Zhuo Xinping, Director of the Institute of World Religions.

He specialises in the study of Christianity's growing influence in China - and has plenty to say about Wenzhou's Christian entrepreneurs.

He tells me that the city was visited by substantial numbers of Western Christian missionaries during the 19th Century and thus has - by Chinese standards - a long history of Christian faith.

Today it has an unusually high number of Christians for a Chinese city - with some estimates suggesting Christians now make up 20% of the population.

But what really interests him is the way in which the growth of Christianity and economic prosperity have happened side by side.
The Boteli Valve Group in Wenzhou, China  
The factory has a monthly output worth $5m
He tells me that Chinese researchers are considering whether in Western history there is a link between economic prosperity and Protestant Christianity - and they are questioning what that might mean for today's China. 

"It's very important to find the secret of social development, the so-called potential forces for a nation," he says. "When it comes to Western countries, the majority Chinese understanding is that this potential force is Protestant Christianity."

Christian faith may sound like an unlikely component in China's future economic success.

But the notion that newfound faith can inspire a workforce to increased levels of productivity is being taken seriously not only by Christian businessmen, but by China's Communist - and officially atheist - leaders.


What Socialists/Communists never seem to understand is that Socialism will never work.   Man will not work hard unless he has an incentive to work.   He will not innovate unless he has a way to use the innovation to benefit himself and perhaps his family and others as well.   Many business owners are proud of being able to help many families be fed, clothed and housed.   Statist tyranny stops people from working their hardest and takes away the desire to try to figure out new and better ways to do things.  

Once Europe was ruled by tyrannical monarchies.   But the Reformation led to the Bible being printed and made generally available, the common man began to learn to read and write and Christian values added to a system of capitalism allowed free Western societies to flourish.   Unfortunately, many Western nations have been undermined by the elitist desire to keep trying the same old failed Socialist policies and programs.  

But even in Communist China, people are noticing that Christians are better citizens and more productive and trustworthy workers and neighbors.  This isn't speculation, this is the finding of Chinese looking at their own society and observing the differences between Christians and unbelievers.  

Socialism is grounded in Atheism, which is one reason it makes such a bad pattern for government.   Atheism is a rotten philosophy and leads to lousy science and lousy government.   Christianity gave us the United States and influenced England to convert from rule by royal fiat to a representative form of government.  Christian-based free societies like Canada and Australia and New Zealand have drifted left and suffered for it but remain among the most successful nations on the planet largely because they are societies founded on the basis of the Judeo-Christian morality, representative government and free enterprise.

Socialism gave us Nazi Germany and Italy.  Communism gave us the Soviet Union, led for many years by Josef Stalin, a man credited with murdering perhaps 20 million innocents and exiling close to 30 million to work camps or the Gulag and it gave us Red China led by Mao, who likely murdered more than 45 million.   It also gave us people like Pol Pot of Cambodia, who had a much smaller nation to torment and so is credited with slaughtering perhaps only one-quarter to one-third of Cambodia's population.   

A few remnants of Pol Pot's Killing Fields

Christianity in China remains a dynamic and volatile confrontation of belief systems.   While there are those areas like Wenzhou where Christianity is being promoted and welcomed,  Beijing remains a city where unregistered underground churches get raided and parishioners get put in jail still.  I wonder how many American Christians would be willing to attend secret church services under threat of arrest?   So many of us complain if the service time gets moved up fifteen minutes or if the music is not familiar enough or the temperatures inside the main sanctuary are not perfectly comfortable.   Millions of Chinese Christians face retribution and jail time because they go to non-State-run real church instead of attending the government-run versions.   American Christians?   We have it too easy.   Sometimes someone expresses displeasure with our faith.  Oh, rats!  I might encounter hostility or someone might just look at me funny.  

Frankly, a good helping of opposition tends to be good for us Christians.   You lift weights, you don't pick two pounders to try to build up your biceps, you might start with fifteens or twenties and then move up to twenty-five or thirty-five or fifty pounders.   I'm too old and beat up to walk the mean streets of Chicago and Gary anymore but the experiences were good for me.  Can you imagine how glorious it could be to find a young man or woman in the midst of gangs and crime and poverty who was actually hungry to hear about God?  Can you imagine praying with a husband and wife who had never heard the Gospel before and were anxious to become children of God?   Can you imagine seeing a teenager who was so close to being a 'banger choosing to follow Christ instead? 

Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk as the sun's light faded away, seeing a group of gang-bangers on the corner and acting as if you weren't even a bit scared?   Can you imagine being surrounded by a bunch of bikers and realizing the only thing to do was to begin preaching from your Bible?  Trust me, I would have been a fool to take a weapon to those places but I did bring a big black Bible and that kept me safer than a Kevlar vest and a semiautomatic rifle.  There was always the possibility that it wouldn't, though, and that undercurrent of uncertainty and the fairly common rejection from the majority of people you spoke to was the set of weights God used to build my faith.  

Can you imagine walking the streets for hours on Saturday and then spending hours on Sunday working on or driving a church bus hauling mostly kids and teenagers to and from church?   Having to wake up at O-Dark-Thirty to be able to go to the bus lot and get your bus started and off to pick up the bus workers before another 15-hour Sunday of driving and church and driving - week after week, month after month?  I didn't do it to be saved or to be righteous, I did it because I wanted to serve God.   Now I teach teenagers and write blogs and sometimes teach adults things that will build their faith and/or help keep America from turning into another Socialist disaster.

I worked to help a church that I eventually realized was in fact to an extent trying to raise Christians to believe they did have to work their way to Heaven to an extent and it was a couple of years of Bible reading that opened my eyes to their legalism and caused me to leave that seminary for good.   They mainly taught me how NOT to be a Christian but in a way that was good, too.   Once you get used to spotting fakes, the real thing becomes easier to see. Being born again is entirely by faith, it is entirely a decision made freely by the individual to either accept or reject Jesus Christ, to either repent or keep on going, to choose to be God's child or to prefer to cast God aside.   What you wear, whether you go to church, the music you prefer, stuff like that doesn't enter in to the equation of salvation.    It is Jesus Christ or not.   Simple when you think of it that way.

Now I go to a normal church, a Bible-believing church that encourages the members to live as Christians at all times, not just for 90 minutes on Sunday. This is, to me, normal Christianity.  I love it!  If you do become a Christian, the natural result will be a desire to live a life that pleases God. I love knowing a large number of people with whom I share prayers and concerns and victories and joys!   I love knowing the families, watching the kids growing up, teaching them, preparing them for college and the massive heaping truckloads of propaganda that will be dumped on them there. 

In my next post I will tell you why I was so driven to work for God then and why I am still driven to work for Him now.